With his color tattoos and pompadour hair, it’s easier to imagine Johnny Iuzzini as a rock musician than a prize-winning dessert maker.
The 34-year-old has been the executive pastry chef at Michelin three-star Jean Georges in New York City since 2002, following stints with esteemed chefs Daniel Boulud and Francois Payard.
In addition to his numerous culinary awards, including James Beard Foundation’s outstanding pastry chef of the year, a local newspaper named Iuzzini New York City’s sexiest chef in 2007.
He recently published his first cookbook, “Dessert FourPlay”, featuring his signature pairings of complementary flavors and textures.
Iuzzini, who grew up in upstate New York, spoke to Reuters about his image and his passion for pastry.
How do your desserts reflect your personality and edgy persona?
“I’m definitely a risky person, a chancy person. If you see me and my desserts, you wouldn’t necessarily draw a line between me and my desserts. My desserts are a reflection of where I’ve worked over the years, the high quality restaurants and the chefs I’ve worked for.”
So your desserts are a blend of your personality and experiences?
“There always has to be a balance … You cook for your clientele. There are six courses that come before me. I have to follow what’s going on in the savory kitchen. Maybe people consider me edgy but at the same time there is a lot of finesse as well. It’s very precise with what we do.”
Why did you decide to become a pastry chef?
“A lot of pastry chefs like myself started out as cooks. When I grew up there wasn’t such a thing as a pastry chef. When I was a cook I had a few desserts to do and that was it. Also my mother was a wildlife rehabilitator so I grew up feeding animals. When I was at a restaurant I had a hard time killing and butchering whole animals. I wanted to get away from doing that.”
What ingredients are you working with right know?
“We are working with more caramels, nuts and chocolates. We are working with squash, apples, pears, exotic fruits and citrus.”
Besides yourself, who makes your favorite dessert?
“Sam Mason (owner of Tailor in New York City) is a friend of mine. He rides the line of sweet and savory better than anyone I know. He uses a lot of vegetables and ingredients you wouldn’t normally see in a pastry kitchen.”
Johnny Iuzzini’s Chocolate-Chipotle Soup with Milk Chocolate Coconut Foam